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What to Expect After Pancreatic Surgery

Surgery to treat pancreatic cancer can remove cancerous tumors and has the potential to extend life. At the same time, undergoing pancreatic surgery can be challenging.

Even minimally invasive surgery still involves an operation, recovery time, and a hospital stay. Although most people won’t experience major complications after these procedures, the experience can affect the way you live, at least while you recover. Here’s what you can expect following your operation.

After Your Pancreatic Surgery

The most common type of pancreatic surgery is called Whipple surgery. During this procedure, your surgeon will remove the head, or right-hand portion, of the pancreas, where most tumors occur.

Because of the location of this organ, he or she must also remove:

  • Parts of the small intestine
  • Gallbladder
  • Bile duct
  • Sometimes, a portion of the stomach.

A new, less-invasive form of Whipple surgery uses a robotic device to more accurately guide surgical instruments in the abdomen. Whatever type of pancreatic surgery you have, you’ll experience some changes to your health and routine afterward.

RELATED: What Do Intestines Do for the Body?

Common Pancreatic Surgery Complications

Most post-surgical complications aren’t life-threatening, but they still require close observation from your health care team. The most frequent complication from pancreatic surgery is leaking of pancreatic juices from the incision. You may also experience bleeding or an infection of the surgical site. For these reasons, your doctor will recommend that you remain in the hospital for four to 10 days, depending on the type of surgery you’ve had. While in the hospital, you’ll be given medications to help ease the pain of surgery.

Digestive changes

You’ve just had major surgery on many of the organs that make up your digestive system. So, it stands to reason that you’ll experience some changes to digestion. Following surgery, you will initially only be able to eat small amounts of food. You may experience temporary diarrhea. Your health care team can work with you to create a plan that meets your nutritional needs. They may recommend special supplements to help you better digest food or to ensure that your body gets the nutrients necessary for good health.

RELATED: Help Your Digestive System With These 5 Foods

Long-term complications from pancreatic surgery

It is also possible to develop longer-lasting complications from pancreatic surgery. For example, post-surgical difficulties with digestion may cause you to experience weight loss. This is a normal consequence of surgery for many people.

Pancreatic surgery can increase your risk of developing diabetes if the procedure removes too many insulin-producing cells from the pancreas. However, this complication is rare in people who have normal blood sugar before surgery — and those diagnosed with diabetes prior to pancreatic surgery may actually see this condition improve.

Pancreatic surgery has the potential to extend your life by removing cancerous tissue. By understanding the side effects and consequences of surgery, you’ll be better able to make informed decisions about your treatment.

Learn more about the latest advances in the field of cancer research. Visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center online. If you have questions, make an appointment to speak with an expert.